As long as there is boxing and judges are used to determine the outcome of fights, controversy will be just one head-scratching scorecard away.
Nevada hasn’t been immune to criticism over judging from fighters, trainers, promoters, fans and reporters. As recently as Oct. 12, outrage was stirred over the scoring of a major world title fight. That night, Timothy Bradley won a 12-round split decision over Juan Manuel Marquez at the Thomas &Mack Center that left Marquez’s fans and those who bet on him angry and disillusioned.
But the furor of Bradley-Marquez paled in comparison to what took place Sept. 14 at the MGM Grand Garden as Floyd Mayweather Jr. was denied his just due in what was ruled a majority decision over Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
Mayweather put on a boxing clinic that night, dominating Alvarez and winning virtually every round. But when the scores were announced, one judge — Las Vegas’ C.J. Ross — had it a draw on her scorecard.
Ross was the same judge who had Bradley beating Manny Pacquiao in June 2012 at the Grand Garden in what many observers also thought was a one-sided bout in Pacquiao’s favor. She took such a public beating over her work in the Mayweather-Alvarez fight that she took a self-imposed indefinite leave of absence and has not reapplied for her license to work as a judge in 2014. (All officials’ licenses in Nevada expire on Dec. 31.)
Ross won’t be the only judge missing from Nevada’s roster when the calendar turns on Jan. 1. Duane Ford, who, like Ross, scored the Pacquiao-Bradley fight in 2012 in Bradley’s favor, retired last summer to become president of the North American Boxing Federation. Veteran judge Al Lefkowitz recently moved to California.
That’s three fewer judges from Nevada who will be available for 2014. In 2011, 23 judges were working in the state. The 2014 roster of Nevada boxing judges is 15 with the average age being 60.9 years, the youngest being 42-year-old Tim Cheatham. The lack of younger judges is of concern to the Nevada Athletic Commission as much as the competency of its veteran judges. Both issues are being addressed, according to commission chairman Francisco Aguilar.
“We’ve been very reactive instead of being strategic, and I don’t like being reactive,” Aguilar said. “I think we as a commission are responsible for providing training and have a philosophy for judging fights. When a judge sits in that chair, that judge should be judging from the same perspective.”
Commissioner Pat Lundvall said education is the key to better performance by officials.
“I think everyone can improve,” she said. “And anytime you can get better, you should do it. We need to do more seminars, more training and have a broader exchange of ideas.”
Such a seminar was held last month in Las Vegas, and it was well-attended. Aguilar said he’d like to see regularly scheduled workshops or seminars on a quarterly basis.
The commissioners also want to see Nevada broaden its scope and use out-of-state officials. Lundvall also would like to see a rating system implemented through an independent third party that would work with NAC executive director Keith Kizer to grade the judges on their work and reward the most competent.
“I think we can learn from other states’ judges, and they can learn from us,” Lundvall said. “We should choose the very best officials, regardless of where they’re from.”
Aguilar said the NAC needs to start identifying and hiring new, younger officials.
“We need to get younger,” he said. “We also need to encourage people to apply to be judges and referees.”
Kizer said he is willing to comply with the commissioners’ requests.
“It helps to bring in outside officials because they can bring fresh ideas,” Kizer said. “But while I think it’s important to have younger, newer officials, I also think experience counts. A lot of people don’t realize that when you come to Nevada to judge a fight, the atmosphere is different, and the pressure is greater.”
Kizer said he grades his officials and adjusts the ratings from fight to fight to help determine future assignments.
Ultimately it comes down to consistency and competency.
Commissioner Bill Brady said the NAC needs to be consistent with the way its judges perform and make sure when they are assigned work that they are the most qualified people to sit in the chair.
“With the nature of boxing being so subjective, you’re always going to have the oddball call from time to time,” Brady said. “But it’s a matter of integrity that we get it right consistently. We have to keep working to improve our officials and have some consistency with how our judges score fights. If that means bringing people in from the outside to work fights here, I’m all for it.”
Aguilar said the commission needs to stop living in the past and think about the future, including segregating judges for boxing and mixed martial arts — three judges in Nevada now work both — and looking around the world for officials to work boxing and MMA cards in Nevada.
“We have a great opportunity to take what is a perceived negative and turn it into a positive,” Aguilar said. “We owe it to the fighters, their camps, the promoters and the fans to get it right.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.